Acknowledgment section thesis writing
Jun 9, 2018
By Susan Carter
Acknowledgements pages show the essence of the thesis author and their experience. If you look through a dozen or so at a time, you will hear the screams, the manic laughter, catching the sombre tragedy and the sense of awe and agony that underpins the doctoral life span.
Acknowledgements are non-consequential in that a student is not evaluated on them, unlike the rest of the prose they have laboured over. Some acknowledgement pages give away the secret of their authors’ difficulty with formal prose, and it doesn’t matter—by the time anyone reads them, the author has been found acceptable.
But acknowledgements do matter because in amongst the celebration the right people need to be thanked in the right sort of way.
The acknowledgement pages I have looked at vary considerably. Most thank funders, supervisors, close colleagues and family. Possibly supportive friends. This means it is effectively a snub if someone important is not thanked.
Typically the structure moves from thanking the most formal support to the least formal thanks as detailed above–funders, supervisors, other academics, colleagues, and finally family. This makes sense according to the logic of incremental progression because the informal thanks to family are often the most heartfelt. Close family members are often the people who gave the most (although some supervisors are likely to feel this is not true).
It is important that a student acknowledges the formal carefully, though: any person or institution that has contributed funding to the project, other researchers who have been involved in the research, institutions that have aided the research in some way. They should also acknowledge proofreaders and editors—that is a requirement at the University of Auckland where I work, and a good one in terms of honesty in authorship. Such formal thanks are usually in the first paragraph or two.
Interestingly, our Guide to Theses and Dissertations states that you should “Only acknowledge people or institutions that have contributed to the content of your thesis” (14).
Yet no one follows this advice. I have seen people thank their dog for sitting at their feet for hundreds of hours, the cat for its companionable choice of the thesis draft as a place to settle down for a nap, and God for creating a magnificent universe available to be studied.
It is possible to thank people for more specific regional rather than global help throughout the thesis too. I like doing this, because it cheers me up to remember the kind, wise colleagues who have helped me along with my thinking. If footnotes are used, the work can be done there, for example, with footnotes that state “I am indebted to xxx for several discussions that helped me to focus this section”. Without footnotes, more formal provision of a ‘personal conversation’ reference will do the same work.
Students may choose to namedrop in these internal thanks too: if a big name in the field gave feedback after a conference paper or in conversation, acknowledgements strengthen the student’s academic authority and insider status.
Acknowledgements vary in length, and the effect of a very long acknowledgement—I have seen a nine-pager—is to dilute the thanks. I have also seen one that simply lists five names, which was blunt, but powerful.
So it is good to start a draft within six months of submission, and revise it for the full satisfaction of a job well done on graduation, with all dues paid. The usual structuring principles apply: those who gave most should be given the most thanks. Supervisors will know the sad truth if the cat gets more lines than they do.
Thanks are best when concrete. I really like thanks to supervisors that carry a sense of who they were in the drama, like “My supervisor, who kept a sense of humour when I had lost mine”; “my supervisor, whose maddening attention to detail drove me to finally learn to punctuate prose”; or “my supervisor, whose selfless time and care were sometimes all that kept me going.” A precisely-worded acknowledgement like a perfectly chosen gift. It fits. It matches.
Some supervisors tend not to give advice on acknowledgments, because they expecting to be thanked, so it feels preemptive. Do others feel, though, that the end result is happier all round if supervisors offer to critically read the acknowledgements too? Or would it be more appropriately a place where academic advisors could give objective advice?
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First and foremost I offer my sincerest gratitude to my supervisor, Dr Mike Thomas, who has supported me thoughout my thesis with his patience and knowledge whilst allowing me the room to work in my own way. I attribute the level of my Masters degree to his encouragement and effort and without him this thesis, too, would not have been completed or written. One simply could not wish for a better or friendlier supervisor.
In the various laboratories and workshops I have been aided for many years in running the equipment by Keith Williams, a fine technician who kept me in sample holders and liquid helium against all odds. The smooth running of the Mössbauer laboratory is much more a testament to his efforts than my own. Simon Case and Gaby Milford helped tutor me in the more esoteric methods necessary to run Mössbauer spectrometers and how to analyse the data from them. Dr Jon Goff gave useful guidance in the use of the SQUID magnetometer along with Pascale Deen, and her ingenious sample holder construction. As well as keeping me stocked with general supplies, Peter Davenport has also inadvertently, and without fail, provided something much greater in all the years I've known him: a friendly smile and a hello every time we met.
Drs Ward and Wells have provided me with all of the Laves Phase MBE samples covered in this thesis as well as many others, with consistent quality. Professor Bowden has offered much advice and insight throughout my work on Laves Phase systems. Drs F. Schedin, P. Morrel and G. Thornton provided me with the magnetite thin films I studied.
In my daily work I have been blessed with a friendly and cheerful group of fellow students. Pascale Deen, as well as SQUID information, has provided good arguments about Physics theory and helped me regain some sort of fitness: healthy body, healthy mind. Adina Toader often made sure none of us starved and Simon Lee made sure none of us went thirsty (or sober). Tarek (Taz) Nouar kept us entertained with his huge repertoire of anecdotes and stories. Mark Gallagher amused us with his dry wit and a great no-nonsense Christmas shindig (and did a good job of trying to kill me with snakebite and black). Stuart Medway was a good companion on an otherwise exhausting and disappointing experiment in Grenoble and although he did once explain the difference between League and Union rugby I must confess to have forgotten every word since. Matt Ball has had the good grace to pester me much less than average with computer questions and pulls a good pint in the Cambridge. Jonathan Pearce helped me get on the road to LATEX and provided an experienced ear for my doubts about writing a thesis. Peter Normile has fascinated me with his ability to break computer systems but has also given me detailed discussions on physics theory and some good laughs. In many ways I have learnt much from and because of him! Angela Beesely has impressed me with her willingness to learn how to use both the computer systems I set up and the finer points of running the Mössbauer lab, which I now consider to be in her capable hands. She also kept me on my theoretical toes with her Mössbauer questions.
Beyond Physics (which sometimes seemed to be nothing more than a distant dream) Andrew Herring has been a companiable housemate for many years as well as a colleague and possesses the greatest quality in a housemate: not driving me up the wall too often! Simon Lee has been an invaluable help in taking over the computer systems from me and sometimes managed to counter my introversion with the occasional sneaky one up the Cambridge (this being an approximation that only holds for large values of `one'). His willingness to help people and make sure everyone has a good time is only matched by his willingness to bare his behind at all and sundry. Thanks also go to the other (million or so) residents at 8, Church Road, for living without their front room for a month. Gillian Howden has brightened many a dull lunchtime.
Kira Brown, as well as essentially teaching me everything I know about unix, has often had to bear the brunt of my frustration and rages against the world and recalcitrant spectrometers with equanimity and friendship. She also (eventually!) sourced me a quality workstation which much of the work has been done on. I am also indebted to the many countless contributors to the ``Open Source'' programming community for providing the numerous tools and systems I have used to produce both my results and this thesis. The entirety of my thesis has been completed using such technologies and I consider it to have been an enormous benefit. Thanks chaps, keep up the good work.
The Department of Physics has provided the support and equipment I have needed to produce and complete my thesis and the EPSRC has funded my studies.
Finally, I thank my parents for supporting me throughout all my studies at University, moving my vast collections of ``stuff'' across most of Liverpool and for providing a home in which to complete my writing up.Dr John Bland, 15/03/2003
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